Iraq, amidst decades of wars, has gained invaluable experiential insight. Increased involvement of extra-regional actors not only fails to guarantee this country’s security but also threatens the political and security accomplishments borne of immense sacrifice.
By: Jafar Sherdoost
Persistently, France is relentless in its efforts to amplify its influence within Iraq. Leveraging every available opportunity to bolster its standing in the Baghdad’s foreign allies, France’s determination in asserting preeminence in the forthcoming Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership is evidenced in its recent escalating consultations. The nuanced dance between shaping the meeting’s agenda and dictating the guests and participants involved, comprise the focal points of the secret, direct and indirect conversations of Paris wih Baghdad, inclusive of numerous other capitals.
The genesis of the conference finds its root in the collapse of the Baathist regime and the emergence of a novel political system within Iraq. The conference sought to convene neighboring countries, permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and major industrial countries to foster Iraq’s democratic evolution toward a stable, developed society. Common themes woven into the conference, held annually for two decades for heads of state, foreign ministers, and experts, encompass combating sectarian and religious strife, dissolution of armed militia clusters, preserving Iraq’s territorial sanctity, addressing Iraq’s diplomatic disputes with its neighbors, and outlining mechanisms for collaboration with Iraq.
While America’s military presence dictated conference logistics—host selection, agenda circulation, conference invitees, and agreement implementation policy—Washington’s sway in Baghdad was particularly influential. Concurrently, with discussions of an American disengagement from Iraq, France commenced endeavors to supplement the void left by America’s retreating focus on Iraq. As ties between Paris and Baghdad matured, France’s striving to formulate its policy concerning the Baghdad conference underwent a considerable uptick, taking on a fresh persona as the Baghdad conference.
France’s interference in eliminating regional actors from the Baghdad conference is notably historical. In past years, France sought to scratch Iran and Turkey off the invitees’ roster. With recent expectations for Syria’s inclusion in the upcoming assembly—owing to normalized relations—an invitation is pending, embedded in Baghdad’s strategy, yet shrouded in ambiguity due to France’s meddling. Iraq’s unresolved matters with its neighbors, and the invaluable roles each one plays—especially in the context of Iraq’s synergy with Syria in combatting extremism and terrorism—significantly outweigh external influence in fostering peace and stability in Iraq.
Iran, sharing common borders with Iraq and a key partner in Iraq’s anti-terrorism war, strongly advocates for the participation of all neighboring countries in the Baghdad summit. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, stresses regional collaboration’s paramount importance for peace and security during recent meetings and regional dialogues in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, and during his discussion with the Turkish foreign minister in Tehran, advocating for unified support for Iraq and Syria and calling for regional accord for endemic peace.
However, the amplified meddling of external actors, including France, stokes fears of eroding regional consensus possibilities. A deconstructed analysis of France’s interventions in Iraq, from multiple perspectives, shines new light on France’s motives. A probing inquiry focuses on whether France aims to seize America’s role in Iraq, or whether it is cooperating with America in a carefully orchestrated labor distribution in the Middle East. A secondary inquiry examines the potential consequences linked to escalating French influence in Iraq’s relationships with its neighbors.
Over the past decades, France has studiously exhibited an alternative approach from its European counterparts. Its strategy, concentrated on acquiring standing and preserving international prestige against the United States, is singular. A notable hallmark to this tendency is France’s relationship with Iraq—an avenue France utilizes to heighten its global stature and role in the evolving multipolar sphere. Consequently, France seeks novel alliances in West Asia, prioritizing its traditional ally—Iraq.
France, during Saddam Hussein’s governance, maintained deep-rooted political and economic connections with Iraq at the strategic partnership level. This alliance encompassed a profound personal and cordial relationship between Saddam Hussein and Jacques Chirac. France furnished a nuclear reactor near Baghdad and was actively involved in several large-scale industrial initiatives, for calculated political and economic reasons. France ardently supported Baghdad against Tehran during the eight-year war against Iran, providing advanced weaponry to Saddam Hussein’s regime amidst an array of political and military backing.
The Elysee Palace, necessitating containment and control over Iraq’s relations with its neighbors, could foreseeably inflame Iraq’s insecurity. France’s prime objective in expanding its influence in Baghdad targets restraining Iran. A byproduct of the war on terrorism was an increased regional influence for Iran in the Middle East, albeit at a notable cost. Iran’s heightened role and influence in Iraq could potentially curtail Western, including France’s, influence in the Middle East. Moreover, France’s competitive dynamics with Turkey are reflective of their motivations within Iraq. While both Turkey and France are NATO members, Ankara’s regional policies often clash with European—including French—interests.
Persisting issues between Iraq and its neighbors necessitate dialogues within the region. Issues such as disputes over water allocation with Iran and Turkey, activities of the PKK, the transit of terrorists across Iraq and Syria’s borders, potential resurgence of terrorist groups, and the question of Israel, remain unresolved.
The upcoming Baghdad conference, therefore, carries critical importance. Current regional issues demand the presence of Iran, Turkey, and Syria at this conference. Despite not having achieved all of Baghdad’s and neighboring countries’ expectations and demands in previous neighbor meetings, a significant shift distinguishes the forthcoming meeting. A heightened regional understanding about the inherent nature of security in the Middle East and the participation of neighboring states underscores this change, with the caveat of American and French involvement. This is contingent upon Baghdad truly seeking to secure Iraq.
Post his meeting with the Saudi authorities, Amirabdollahian conveyed, “the region is on the cusp of a new era of multilateral cooperation—a fresh opportunity”. This statement signifies a renewed understanding that regional security, independent of foreign influence, is an avenue critical for development. Iran prioritizes this robust cooperation with its neighbors.
Iraq, amidst decades of wars, and the hefty political, human, economic, and security consequences of American occupation, has gained invaluable experiential insight. Increased involvement of extra-regional actors not only fails to guarantee this country’s security but also threatens the political and security accomplishments borne of immense sacrifice.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Iran Nuances.